Company is aiming to open 20 stores across the country this year
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY —While Frisco is just starting a public process to get feedback on the possibility of developing a new grocery store on the town-owned interstate parcel, Whole Foods Market announced Wednesday that it has signed a lease for a new store, subject to review and approval by local authorities.
“It’s official. We’re definitely taking a look at it,” said spokesman Ben Friedland (formerly with Copper Mountain). More info on the town’s process is online at the Frisco Government website.
The lease is with Boulder-based Brynn Grey Partners LTD, an entity controlled by local developer David O’Neil. The deal has been in the works for a year and was announced as part of a Whole Foods Market quarterly earnings statement. Seven other new stores, averaging about 30,000 square-feet each, are also in the works. All are in urban or suburban locations.
The lease with Brynn Grey locks in the Frisco location, at least for now, which some local boosters see as a business coup during a time when commercial development is still dampened as a result of the overall real estate slowdown.
Whole Foods would be an anchor tenant on the parcel, located near the Frisco Transfer Station on Lusher Court. So far there’s been little discussion of what other tenants might be housed in the new retail area.
Once the town gets informal feedback from residents, a formal planning review could begin. If the store is approved, the parcel could either be sold or leased to O’Neil’s company, which would then rent it to Whole Foods Market.
Whole Foods is in an expansion mode, opening 18 new stores in 2011, averaging about 39,000 square feet each. The company’s earnings report shows an average development cost of $9.8 million per store.
Right now, Whole Foods operates about 300 stores across the country. In an earnings call last May, company executives said their long-term target is 1,000 stores. Overall, the trend is toward smaller stores, especially in urban settings, where large commercial real estate spaces are hard to find.
Other than existing stores on the Front Range, Whole Foods is also preparing to open a mid-sized store in Basalt. That project has also been in the works for several years and was halted for several months when the developer building the store failed. A new developer stepped in, and the store is scheduled to open this summer.
Some of the Pitkin County news coverage of the Basalt store suggests the store could generate more than 100 new jobs, but Friedland said it’s too early to talk about specifics for Frisco. The number of store associates would depend on the exact size and configuration, he said.
While the new store has been touted as having the potential to create jobs and generate sales tax revenue, it’s far from clear what the net impact would be.
A voice of caution came from Mark Belkin, organizing director of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 7 representing local Safeway workers, along with about 25,000 other union members in Colorado and Wyoming.
Belkin said any new jobs have to weighed against potential losses of existing jobs at the Frisco Safeway. Belkin emphasized that the Safeway employees enjoy good health benefits and that their jobs are legally protected under the company’s contract with the union.
“Those types of jobs are quickly disappearing,” Belkin said
Similarly, estimates of sales tax revenues have to be calculated by including possible losses in revenues at other food retailers, including Safeway and Wal-Mart, although Belkin said that Whole Foods and Safeway are not necessarily direct competitors, since Whole Foods is a generally seen as a high-end grocer.
“Safeway is a competitive organization, been in the food business for decades,” Belkin said.
Those calculations will be part of the process the town will go through before approving the development, deciding if that’s the best and highest use for a valuable parcel owned by the citizens of Frisco